The Bodhisatta was once an ascetic and had many thousands of followers. One day one of his seven chief disciples, Narada, saw a group of prostitutes sitting along a river trying to tempt the men bathing there. He fell in love at first sight with one of them so deeply that he stopped eating and meditating. His brother, another of the Bodhisatta’s chief disciples, divined Narada’s affliction and went to visit, but Narada denied there was a problem. Other chief disciples came to assist, yet Narada would still not admit he had fallen into the power of the senses, so they called the Bodhisatta. Seeing his master, Narada finally confessed and explained the situation. The Bodhisatta reminded him that the result of his current path was misery in this life and hell after it.
Narada asked the Bodhisatta to explain what was wrong with seeking happiness. He answered that happiness and misery always arose together. Then he told the story of a strong young brahmin who grew tired of working and caring for others and decided to go out to the Himalayas and live a life of bliss alone, hunting and eating all the deer that he desired. As time went by, he started thinking about what he’d do when he got old and weak. He drove many different animals into a small gorge and gated it off so he would not have to travel far to get meat. His plan worked for a while, but eventually he lost control of his hands and feet and could no longer get food or drink. He body wasted away and he suffered immensely.
A king had chosen to renounce his throne and pursue the same satisfying life in the Himalayas as the brahmin had. One day the king passed the brahmin’s house and they started to talk. The young brahmin told what he had done with his life and explained that he was now reaping the fruits of his decision to seek only pleasure. He urged the king to not cause misery to others as he had done and to go back to the city and live a life of charitable deeds. The king did so, and after he died he was reborn in heaven. Hearing these words, Narada begged forgiveness and fully recovered from his infatuation.
In the Lifetime of the Buddha
Narada was an earlier birth of one of the Buddha’s junior disciples and the prostitute was an earlier birth of the wife he left behind. Because he was new, this disciple’s food was poor (lumpy gruel with stale or rotting ingredients and dried or burnt sprouts) and he did not get enough to stay healthy. He started to return each morning to his wife, and she gave him delicious rice with sauce and curry. This made him miss his former life, and with her encouragement he decided to leave the sangha.
The Buddha told the disciple this story so he knew that in the past his wife had made him miserable and almost derailed him from the quest for salvation, but he overcame his urges and kept his religious life. After talking to the Buddha, this disciple gained new understanding and chose to stay.
The Bodhisatta’s other six chief disciples were earlier births of six of the Buddha’s top disciples: Sariputta, Maha Kassapa, Anuruddha, Maha Kaccana, Ananda, and Moggallana.